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Tuesday, Apr 16, 2024

Simone Kraus in Germany and the Czech Republic

Simone Kraus

Alumna, Bread Loaf School of English (2005), Bread Loaf Translators’ Conference (2016 and 2017), Bread Loaf Writers' Conference (2017)

Location: Germany and the Czech Republic

Submitted May 20, 2020

Our lilac tree. Every morning, I look at it while I make coffee. (SIMONE KRAUS)

In March, some E.U. countries decided to close their external borders — a decision that affected my life directly. I had anticipated and feared it, but being confronted with it is a totally different thing. I was born, raised and educated in Germany; my parents originally came from former Czechoslovakia, now the Czech Republic. They left their home country after the Prague Spring was crushed in August 1968. I used to have a complicated relationship with my parents' home country because of what happened in the past. I usually ran away from it, rather than to it. But the reality of closed borders changed many things. I was in Germany when I learned that the Czech border would be closed at midnight. I realized that I didn’t have any blood relatives in Germany whatsoever; my friends are scattered all over the world, and my parents, who spend most of their free time in the Czech Republic, were on the other side of the border. Without needing to think about it, I packed up my things, squeezed as much as I could into my car, locked up my apartment and set off. I asked my neighbor to take care of my mail. I knew I had to be fast if I wanted to put five hundred kilometers between my home and the place we have in the Czech Republic.

I reached the border just in time. The highway was surrounded by dark forests. The only people that I could see when I was approaching the last checkpoint were two men dressed in full protective gear. From a distance, they looked like two white specks. They hovered in the background, just in case. The Czech border police officer who checked every car — in a calm manner — was wearing a face mask — a FFP3 mask, I could tell. Those protective masks were the world's most wanted commodity at the time, as were ordinary surgical masks. Everybody had learned some new vocabulary by watching the updates on the coronavirus response. Seeing this mask on the man's face made me think, "It's happening." I asked the officer if I could return to Germany the following week. He said "I don’t know, to be honest, but I will check later on the Internet” — as if there was a possibility that I would speak to him again. He let me cross the border, and that was all that mattered.

What has been your greatest worry or day-to-day concern as coronavirus has spread?

I want to keep my family safe and healthy. I'm worried about the protests against lockdown measures in Germany which broke out last week — as restrictions were being eased. What will happen to the Schengen Area in the E.U.? I'm worried about the book that I'm writing. Will I be able to finish my book project? 

What has made you happy over the past few weeks?

  1. Gardening. My form of gardening begins every morning by watching the lilac tree that has been in our garden for twenty years. When I get up in the morning, I make coffee. I do it the old-fashioned way by pouring hot water onto ground coffee beans. While the coffee is brewing, I open the window and look at the tree. I waited for it to bloom for several weeks. This month, it’s blooming. 

  2. I've joined the Middlebury College Alumni Book Club that was launched online this month. I enjoy being part of the community. For weeks, I wasn’t able to write, email, or read. The book club is a good opportunity to find my way back to writing and reading.